Panthers make history as Manning stars for Broncos
Carolina Panthers clinched top spot in the NFC division for the first time in their history on a night of high drama as the regular NFL season came to an end, with comeback king Peyton Manning rolling back the years to steer Denver Broncos to be top seed in the AFC.
The Panthers recorded a 38-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with Cam Newton throwing two touchdowns and running in two himself.
Many thought Manning's career was over when he was replaced by Brock Osweiler amid injury worries and a rash of interceptions earlier in the season.
Then, before Christmas, Manning (below)was the subject of a TV documentary that claimed he took human growth hormone in 2011 to speed recovery from surgery, allegations he denies.
But with the Broncos struggling against San Diego Chargers and facing the possibility of dropping into the wild-card round, they turned to their veteran quarterback. Manning came on in the third quarter and rallied his team to a 27-20 win.
Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three fourth-quarter interceptions as New York Jets' post-season hopes went up in smoke with a disappointing 22-17 defeat to Buffalo Bills.
New York's pain proved to be Pittsburgh Steelers' gain, though, as they clinched the wild-card spot with a 28-12 triumph over Cleveland Browns, who fired their general manager, Ray Farmer, and head coach, Mike Pettine, after the game.
Minnesota Vikings beat Green Bay Packers 20-13 to claim the NFC North title, while Houston Texans managed to secure their first AFC South crown since 2012.
The post-season begins next weekend when the Texans entertain Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals host the Steelers on Saturday, with Seattle Seahawks heading to Minnesota and Green Bay travelling to take on Washington Redskins the following day.